NYC Will Now Send Mental Health Experts Instead Of Police To Certain 911 Calls

by Kristine Cannon
NYPD car mental health program
Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images

New York City’s new mental health teams will now respond to mental health crises — not ill-equipped cops

It may have felt literal years have passed since the unjust and tragic death of George Floyd, but it’s been a mere six months; and since, the May 25 killing has sparked national outrage and nationwide protests, with many calling to defund the police. And one of the aims of the defund the police movement? Sending mental health experts — instead of ill-equipped police officers — to respond to 911 calls that are both mental-health related and nonviolent. In response, one major U.S. city — where at least 16 people struggling with mental health issues have been fatally shot in the last four-and-a-half years — is finally making said move.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that the city will now respond differently to New Yorkers experiencing mental health crises. Beginning February 2021, the new Mental Health Teams of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) health professionals and mental health crisis workers will now be dispatched through 911 to respond to mental health emergencies in select communities.

“This is the first time in our history that health professionals will be the default responders to mental health emergencies, an approach that is more compassionate and effective for better long term outcomes,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray in a prepared statement.

According to the city’s press release, the new Mental Health Teams will take the place of NYPD officers and FDNY Emergency Medical Services Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), who currently respond to nearly all mental health 911 calls. The new Mental Health Teams will not only use their physical and mental health expertise and experience in crisis response to de-escalate emergency situations, but they will also help reduce the number of times police will need to respond to 911 mental health calls. The Teams will respond to everything from behavioral health problems such as suicide attempts, substance misuse, and serious mental illness, to physical health problems.

In situations involving a weapon or imminent risk of harm, however, the new Teams will respond with NYPD officers.

One in five New Yorkers struggle with a mental health condition. Now, more than ever, we must do everything we can to reach those people before crisis strikes,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “For the first time in our city’s history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need.”

Of course, the new program was has been met with some criticism.

According to Patrick J. Lynch, president of Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD’s largest union, the program will “undoubtedly put our already-overtaxed EMS colleagues in dangerous situations without police support.”

“We need a complete overhaul of the rest of our mental health care system, so that we can help people before they are in crisis, rather than just picking up the pieces afterward,” the PBA statement reads. “On that front, the de Blasio administration has done nothing but waste time and money with ThriveNYC and similar programs. We have no confidence that this long-delayed plan will produce any better results.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).